It was the middle of last night in Europe when the wires carried a story, based on reporting by the Washington Post’s William Branigin, that U.S. forces from the Third Infantry had killed seven civilians at a checkpoint in Iraq. On Saturday, a suicide bomber had killed four GIs from the same unit at a nearby checkpoint, so tensions were high. When a small van approached the checkpoint near Kerbala, GIs were anxious to get it to stop. But the driver ignored the warning shots, and even after nervous soldiers shot at the engine, the car kept moving. Finally, rounds were fired into the passenger compartment. Seven women and children were dead by the end of the incident.
There was a lot of other significant news yesterday. The New York Times reported significant advances by other elements of the Third Infantry near Baghdad. As the Army advanced, the Daily Telegraph was in retreat from the Sunday Telegraph’s ludicrous front-page story by Olga Craig. Olga breathlessly she had faced “angry Iraqis” on a daring jeep ride deep into Basra — but in fact based her entire story on a one-word exchange with a pedestrian. Today, the news in the embarrassed, generally conservative Telegraph was about cheering Iraqis greeting newly arrived American forces.
Happy Iraqis are misery for the liberal Brit dailies. So it was the dead women and children who produced the lead item of the day for both the Independent (with a report filed from Washington, since for the Independent the scene of the action was at the Post, not in Iraq) and the Guardian — not to mention, of course, all the Fromageville dailies, such as Figaro, which trumpeted the sad event on its front page.
The way the stories have been played has demonstrated the way the Left-wing media has developed a mid-Atlantic split in dealing with the war. In New York, where support for the conflict is remarkably high, the New York Times’s fascination is with making it clear that as long as a war must be fought, the Times knows more than Rummy about how to win the damn thing. This fits with a 43rd Street worldview that is largely obsessed by who has the most political power — the Times or anybody else.
But in the Left-wing European press, and especially in the U.K., the drumbeat is for failure because American success is seen as a threat to Euro-liberalism, and must therefore be opposed. So: The war is as unwinnable as the hearts and minds of the Iraqis. And if Iraqi minds are lost, can the minds of Britons be far behind? Yesterday, the polls showed a slip in British voters’ support for the war, but today some polls, such as the one published in the Times, shows a kind of uncertain, fragile encouragement for the conflict, despite the relentless pessimism of the British Left-press and the anguished reports by the BBC, where support for the war is unthinkable. So above all, the Euro-Left needs a war frequently illuminated by events chock-full of moral outrage — and fortunately for them, wars are pretty reliable sources of such things. The coalition may be parking tanks on suburban lawns outside Baghdad, but, frankly, seven dead women and children were just what Doctor Faustus ordered.
At midday London-time, the BBC World Service was still leading its news programs with their version of the report, with some ornamental claims that the tragedy “undermine efforts by the U.S.-led troops to portray themselves as a force of liberation and may create an impression of an army which shoots first and asks questions later.” That impression has already been created by the BBC, of course. Events like this terrible one are just reinforcements.
— Denis Boyles is a journalist based in Europe.